The main way to tell the difference between a Monarch butterfly and a Viceroy butterfly is that Viceroy butterflies have a black line along their lower wings and Monarchs hold their wings in V shape while flying.
Monarch Butterfly Physical Description
Monarch butterflies have two sets of wings with a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches (7.62 cm to 10.16 cm). Their wings are deep orange with a black border and black veins. There are also white spots along the edges of their wings. The underside of their wings is a lighter orange. While flying, Monarchs hold their wings in a V-shape.
Male Monarchs are noticeably different than female Monarchs since the males have two black spots in the center of their hind wings. Female Monarchs lack this feature. The black veins on females are thicker than on male Monarchs.
Viceroy Butterfly Physical Description
Viceroy butterflies have similar appearances to Monarch butterflies. Like monarchs, Viceroys are orange with a black border and white spots. However, Viceroy butterflies have a black line across their secondary wings that Monarch butterflies do not have.
Another difference is that Viceroy butterflies are smaller than Monarchs. Their wingspan ranges from two to three inches. When Viceroys are flying, they hold their wings out flat.
There is no noticeable difference between male and female Viceroys like there is between male and female Monarchs. However, when comparing male and female Viceroys, the females are typically slightly larger.
Mimicry as a survival technique
Monarchs and Viceroys closely resemble one another, but it’s not coincidental. These butterflies use Mullerian mimicry, a form of mimicry in which several animals develop similar physical appearances.
Monarch butterflies are toxic due to their consumption of milkweed plants. Viceroy butterflies mimic Monarch butterflies’ appearance to ward off predators.
Monarch vs. Viceroy Caterpillar Comparison
Monarch and Viceroy adult butterflies may have a similar appearance, but they look very different in their caterpillar stage.
Viceroy caterpillars are brown and green with some scattered white areas.
Monarch caterpillars are yellow, white, and black. Monarch caterpillars have consistent stripes, while the colors on Viceroy caterpillars blend. They are smooth, and the Viceroy caterpillars are bumpy.
Viceroy caterpillars are often said to resemble bird droppings. They use this to their advantage by rolling into a ball when threatened, hoping the predator will think they are bird droppings.
Differences in Diet
Once they reach the adult stage in the butterfly life cycle, Viceroy and Monarch butterflies share the same diet. Adult butterflies have many food sources, some of which include nectar, fruits, and animal droppings.
Differences in Behavior
Monarch butterflies migrate, but Viceroy butterflies do not. Monarchs migrate in the fall from across the United States and Canada. They travel south to overwinter before making their way back north in the spring.
Viceroy butterflies often die during the winter since they don’t migrate. However, Viceroy caterpillars have a strategy to survive winter. They enter a stage of insect hibernation known as diapause. They roll themselves up inside willow leaves and remain there until spring.
Monarchs tend to fly in a smooth and straight pattern. Viceroys usually fly in a faster and more erratic way. This visible difference in their flights is a useful way to determine the difference between them.
Differences in Distribution
Viceroy butterflies are found in North America, while Monarch butterflies are found in North and South America, the Caribbean, and parts of Europe.
Viceroy butterfly sightings can occur in most of the continental United States. They can also be found in southern Canada and northern Mexico. Viceroys are mostly found in moist and shrubby habitats. Examples include wet meadows, willow thickets, and lake and swamp edges.
Monarch butterflies mostly reside in North, Central, and South America. They can also be found in Australia, Hawaii, and India. Monarchs are found in many more areas than Viceroys are. Monarch butterflies live mainly in prairies, forests, and grasslands. They enjoy open, sunny areas with tall grasses.
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Whitney has always admired the beautiful Kentucky scenery in which she resides. As a child, butterflies would often land on Whitney. Their beauty and constant presence inspired her to learn more about them. She now enjoys writing about the wondrous creature.